ill.Gates Talks Bassnectar And Meeting Bill Gates in iEDM Interview
ill.Gates is a bass music conductor who is so knowledgeable in production that he even offers his own classes for free so other producers can learn his tips and tricks.
He has done collaborations with all our favorite artists like Bassnectar and Datsik, and he regularly posts the behind the scenes of his creative process. He is passionate about making music and keeps his sets fresh.
To top it off, he is a really humble and hilarious guy with a vibrant personality, which resulted in my favorite interview I have done to date.
iEDM: I saw that you were working on a track earlier on your Facebook live. Tell me about that.
ill.Gates: That's for a collab EP that I did with Opiuo where we started this track together. Then he's done a version and I'm doing a version. Spoonbill actually was in on it too, but he doesn't make party music. He was like, "Nah, you guys just use the sounds." But he helped too. Then basically we're going to do a two tracker when it's done. I don't think we're going do a super official release because there's a couple of naughty little samples in there that might end up causing some friction. So we're just doing this free SoundCloud release. It should be awesome.
I don't know what's up, but I've been having issues with my computer. I think the fan's clogged with festival dust or something. So, I'm buying a new computer. Once that's done, I'm gonna finish it. It's been nothing but trouble, that computer.
iEDM: So, you'll be dropping it tonight then?
ill.Gates: Yeah, I got it ready to play tonight. It's done enough to play but not finished, close enough.
iEDM: You do a lot of online tutorials and share your creative process. What inspired that?
ill.Gates: Well, I've always been really sharing with the stuff that I know. My mom's a teacher and my dad's a professional musician. So it's kind of natural.
All my friends are musicians and what not. When it's time to hang out, I'm not just like, "Oh yeah, let's do drugs and watch TV." That shit drives me fucking insane. I need to be grinding on something creative. So, it's just how I hang out, working on something. Could be drawing or throwing a show. I have to be doing something constructive all the time.
So, I knew lots of musicians and would show them stuff. Eventually people were like, "Hey, can I pay you to come over my house and finish a track for me?" I'd be like, "Yeah, fuck it, sure." Then I was ghost producing for people and mentoring. From that, I developed systems of explaining things to people. Then I thought, "Hey, maybe I should do a workshop. I could teach more than one person at a time." So, I did a workshop and people really liked it. For a few years, I would just do these workshops when I traveled around doing shows.
I lived in Canada and would come down for a show. Now I live in New York. So. it's like I just go out for a weekend for a gig and come home. When I lived in Canada, I would come out and be gone for months at a time. I'm like, "Shit, what am I gonna do with Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday?" There are no shows. So, I would travel and stay at people's houses and produce music, do workshops, and over the years, that turned into my own methodology workshop.
Eventually, I thought, "Hey, I should maybe film this and put it online." I did that, started teaching people online and now, there's this really cool software that I've been using where I'll host classes live. If you go to thebreakthroughworkshop.com, and give me your email, then come to the workshop for free.
Usually at the end of the workshop, people see the value of what I have to teach and go to my website to buy some stuff. That justifies the fact that I do the workshops for free because I have just tons and tons of sample packs and workshops that people buy. I was filming that and then doing the live streaming any time I'm around an internet connection and producing. I'll just turn on a live stream and then people can ask me questions online to see how I work. I never really thought that it would end up becoming such a part of what I do. I've always put making my own music first, but it's been a real synergy. It's really cool to see a lot of people who were my students killing it now. Even better than me, a lot of them.
iEDM: Anyone you wanna shout out?
ill.Gates: Yeah, there's lots. Minnesota came to one of my workshops way back in the beginning. Beats Antique, Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, Mimosa, all kinds of people have been to my workshops before. String Cheese Incident’s drummer, Jason Hann, I used to help him with his Ableton stuff. It's really cool seeing a lot of them doing well.
I started a label for my students now be'cause I thought, "Hm. If I had been releasing these people's records right at the beginning, that would be awesome, right?" So, I started a label for my students now called Producer Dojo and the first release was this kid from Philly Matter. He's awesome. Within two days, it was the number one dubstep release on Beatport. He's crushing it. There's a bunch more coming in 2018. I'm pretty stoked. Now it's kind of like a school/record label.
iEDM: How do you go about planning your own sets?
ill.Gates: I basically play my own material or tracks occasionally from my students. I used to do DJ sets a lot more, but it bugs me when you go see someone who’s music you love, they produce and then you're seeing them play a bunch of tracks you have on your hard drive that you could play. I came to see your music, dammit. It also kind of serves as motivation for me to produce more and really like, "Oh, well, my set's getting stale, gotta hit the studio." Lately, I've been just playing my own music.
I have about maybe 300 tracks that I made. So they're all organized in USB stick format. I basically look out at the audience and go, "What do these people wanna hear right now?" I select from tracks that I made. I always try and keep at least half of my set unreleased tracks because like I said, it bugs me when you hear other people playing tracks that you could have played.
Right now, I got a new album that's done. I've been just sitting on it all summer to maintain unreleased tracks. That's coming out pretty soon. Then I’ve got this “Ghost In The Shell” remix that I did and a bunch of other stuff that I'm sitting on. It'll be fun to drop them tonight.
iEDM: You used to go by Phat Conductor. Where did ill.Gates come from?
ill.Gates: That used to be my DJ name when I was 15 and in a breakdance crew, in Canada. All the other guys had really crazy names like Jewbacca and Julius Seizure. I used to scratch and play breaks and funk, but I always liked Aphex Twin too. Then I realized that I wanted to go beyond just breaks.
When you're learning, you want to just do your version of a genre. Once you know how to produce, you're like, "I wanna make the music that needs me to make it." So, ill.Gates is really my effort to peel another layer off the onion and get closer to who I was as a producer and really start digging a little bit deeper into my pool of influences. I just made a list of names.
The thing is, names are really important. That conduit of hearing someone's music, then hearing their name, remembering their name, and getting to connect with them on the internet you become a fan. That conduit has to be super looped up and easy to happen. If you have some name that has some weird pun or inside joke that only you have, it's not appealing or spelled funny, is hard to remember, it can mess the whole thing up. So when you're thinking of names, you really have to make a list.
I made a list of a couple hundred names. Over time and I was like, "Which ones of these is going to be the best one?" I always really enjoyed hip-hop and I'm a nerd. So, I thought ill.Gates was like Bill Gates but ill. It was pretty funny, and easy to remember. ill.Gates.com was open. So, I just went with it, and the rest is history.
iEDM: I read that you also partied with Bill Gates later on. Tell me about that.
ill.Gates: I never in a million years thought that would happen when I chose the name.
That's actually why I have the dot in it too. I didn’t want to go to court with Bill Gates.
I was always a big fan of Burning Man. I think it was maybe 2010, I was playing at False Profit Camp at Burning Man, and that camp has really super cool nerds. All PhD, ayahuasca study people, civil rights lawyers, and all these really cool grown folks who have this sick-ass camp. They would only throw one party Tuesday night.
So at Burning Man, everybody from Silicon Valley goes. All the tech nerds and Google leave these green bikes everywhere that you can just ride. They all take acid and plan their next startup or whatever, right. So they're all there in their disguises and shit.
I'm playing this Tuesday night party and this woman in the audience was the general manager of Bing. She really liked my music and asked her friend, "Hey, who's this?" He was like, "Duh, ill.Gates." She said, "Dude, Bill Gates is my boss. That's hilarious. I like his music." So the conduit worked. She remembered my name, easy to find me, etc. She probably used Bing to find me and hit me up.
When I got the phone call, I thought it was a prank. I was like, "No way Microsoft wants to book me for a gig. No way." Right? That's ridiculous. So she said, "Okay, well, what do you want?" I was like, "Well, I want a bunch of money and I wanna meet Bill Gates." So I hung up and I was like, "That was a weird phone call. Maybe one of my friends is sampling me or something."
Then literally the next week she’s like, "Hey, here's your chateau reservation at Sundance, your plane tickets, etc." I went there and I met Danielle at the airport, who's now one of my very close friends. We hit it off right away. Then we were all staying in this chalet together and became really tight friends.
Sure enough, the night in question rolls around. It was The Roots and John Legend and DJ HeavyGrinder all playing at this place. Then sitting there at our table, in comes Bill Gates with all these ex-Mossad bodyguards who look like they could kill you just by looking at you. They were really friendly at the same time. It was pretty intense. We hung out and he was such a nerd. Like, homeboy. You know some people, they get rich and you're like, "You've changed, man?" I don't think he changed at all. They came up to do bottle service were like, "Okay, Bill Gates, the richest man in the world. What do you want for bottle service?" He's like, "Oh, I like Coca-Cola. Everybody else like Coca-Cola? And what alcohol mixes with Coke? Oh geez." He's got this funny accent and they're like, "Would you like vodka?" He's like, "Okay, yeah, vodka. What's a vodka? Is Smirnoff a good vodka? We'll have a bottle of Smirnoff." We're like, "No, Bill Gates, don't drink Smirnoff, bro. Get some Grey Goose and some Belvedere or something. Come on." He's like, "Oh, yeah, okay."
He hangs out and we party. He's like, "Okay, so what's the DJ doing up there? How do they play a song off a record?" I was like, "Well, they're not actually playing the song, they're playing a record it's like they're the curator in an art gallery." He's like, "Oh, well how's the music made?" I thought, "How am I going to put this so that Bill Gates understands this?" I said, "It's kind of like Photoshop but with sounds, you know? Synthesizers are like vector graphics, and a sampler is like taking a photo." He said he could understand that.
iEDM: Tell us about your relationship with Bassnectar.
ill.Gates: These are pretty much the two biggest breaks in my life. The Microsoft gig and the Bassnectar gig. Okay, so rewind to before ill.Gates is even a thing, back when I'm the Phat Conductor. One of my first records is this track called "Ice 9." It had this ironic sample of this psycho fucking preacher just berating children for listening to rock and roll, saying it's the devil's music and shit, right? Lorin loves preachy-ass samples in a track. So, I didn't really think it was the greatest track ever, but he was playing it every set. This was back when people played vinyl. So he actually had the record and was playing that shit every set.
He knew a mutual friend of mine. This guy named Miyagi. He reached out, and was like, "Yo, I play your music all the time. What's up?" I said, "Oh, okay. Hey, how's it going?" He mailed me a CD, because that was how you used to do promos back then. I listened to his music and I thought, "Oh, shit! This is really cool. This is totally like a lot of the music that I was making”
This was long ago, like 2005. Really long time ago. He said, "Yeah, you should come to California. This is all everybody listens too. Burning Man, you can play the weirdest breaks you want. Come to California, come to Burning Man."
He would get gigs in Toronto, stay on my couch and hang out. We'd make tracks. I would hang out at his house when I was going to Burning Man. He introduced me to all of these different promoters and people at the Burning Man scene. We made a ton of tracks together, and probably half of them never even came out. We both have a lot of unreleased tracks that we made in our sets. In 2008, he hired me to VJ for the Underground Communication tour. That was my first bus tour. Went all around the west coast. It was super fun.
So through a lot of those connections, I managed to get enough work playing shows in the US. I would come over and play shows, go to Burning Man and festivals. Then basically, that was preparing the kindling for the whole Microsoft thing. Once I got that Microsoft gig, I was able to get a work visa and move to the US.
If you're a Canadian, it is hard to get a visa. It costs, like, three grand to apply. They can just say, "Fuck you," and keep your money. You have to have 40 pieces of print press. Blogs did not count. You have to have served as a judge on a panel. You have to have letters from people in the top of your field saying that only you can do your job, you're creating employment and not taking it away from an American.
So, it was really hard to get that together. It's very difficult to make a living as a musician in Canada. So, I used to be pretty broke for probably about a decade in Canada until that finally started happening and I got a work visa and then moved to the US. living off of gigs in Canada is tough, man. Anyone who does it, my props to you because it is definitely not easy.
The Bassnectar thing and the whole Microsoft thing were big connections. Probably the best gig I ever had was doing ringtones for the Windows phone. They wanted a comedy pack, so I ended up selling my actual farts. I didn't wanna infringe copyright, right? I listened to "Eye of the Tiger" and ate baked beans, got my most expensive microphone and farted into it. I just don't tell any of the vocalists that come over my house.
"That's the one, that's the poopy mic." It was really funny I used that money to move to the US.
iEDM: You've done a lot of notable collabs. Who's been your favorite?
ill.Gates: Lorin. It's pretty fun. I get the most mileage out of those collabs. It churns tracks that I play all the time. I've done a lot of other collabs that are just like, "Fuck it, let's make the weirdest music we can." It's really fun to do in the moment, but I don't drop a lot of downtempo bangers. You gotta play shit people can dance to at shows. Lorin's really reins me in. It's just like, "Yo, let's not get too experimental here. It's gonna still be experimental, but rocking the party, objective number one."
A lot of people, they talk shit about producers like Lorin and Diplo because they would do so many collabs with people and there are all of these rumors that other people are doing all the work. Whenever I do work with Lorin, I'm the one with the mouse in my hand far more often. But the thing is, a lot of people can get a track to like 80% there but there's only a handful of people that can get it past 90% and into the 95%+ range.
Lorin, you could work all day on a track. Then he'll come in and in ten minutes, he'll be like, "Nah, here's where you're fucking up. You need to do this, this, this, that sound, get everything else out of the way, that's the best sound. This is just bullshit, throw that in the garbage." Then you do those things and boom, it's way better. Not everybody has that sensibility. Lorin is one of those people who really, he knows instinctively what's going to make a hit record and not everybody has that.
Working with people who have that is a whole different thing. There's making music with your homies for fun, and there's making hit records. Lorin, he doesn't make music for fun. When he's in the studio, he's not chilling. He's not like, "Yo, this is recreational music time, check out this new plugin I got. Isn't it sweet?" No fucking way. He's pulling his hair out, stressing, like, "This has gotta be the best fucking thing it can ever be. Ah!" You have to be ready to die for the shit to operate at that level.
I was approaching it like this fun thing that I have to do or else I will go insane. To really approach it like, "Yo, we're gonna make records that are gonna change people's lives." and being a bit more serious about it, I got a lot of that from him. I'm sampling farts for fuck's sake. It's not exactly the most serious approach to music.
Working with him, I learned to really take things a lot more seriously. You can really see it in the progression of my albums. My first album, Autopirate in 2008 is pretty indulgent. It's just making music for fun. A lot of that shit sounds great if you're at a festival, there's 1,500 people there, and it's five in the morning. The sun's coming up and shit. Yeah, awesome, but if you wanna make music that's gonna get you on the main stage, you have to approach it in a certain way.
I always looked down on that approach. I was like, "Oh, I don't wanna sell out. I don't wanna make music where I'm trying to make it likable." There's such a balancing act to that and when someone can pull off, it's a really amazing piece. For example, the Beastie Boys, Amy Winehouse, that's very much so pop music, but at the same time, that's the soundtrack to everybody's life. You don't look at music like that and go like, "Oh, that's fucking selling out, they're trying to be likable or this is too formulaic." They're making music that really connects with people and changes people's lives. I used to view it as, you're a sellout if you're trying to make music that was popular.
What makes a piece of music is what happens in the mind of the person listening to that music. You can be indulgent and make music for yourself or you can make music where you're like, "What is the maximum possible experience that I can give to the maximum number of people and how can I create that fire in their mind and heart?" It's not selling out to focus on that at all.
Over the course of my albums, Terminally Ill is probably my most quote, unquote "commercial-sounding" album. I also think it's my best album. Those tracks, I really put my heart and soul into in a way that I hadn't done for my other albums. I even wrote a whole other album that I was like, "No, that's a separate album," along the way. It used to be I would just put out everything I wrote. Terminally Ill, I wrote probably 50 songs and then put out 15.
It’'s a different approach. The new album is very much like that as well. I really learned a lot from working with Lorin, man. He's been probably the best influence in my life and career as a musician.
iEDM: You said that your new album is coming out soon. Does it have a name yet and are you working on anything else?
ill.Gates: It's called Departures, and it's all weird shit. Terminally Ill, that one's my most likable, defining, classic ill.Gates vibe. Departures is all just outside of the box, weird crazy shit. A bunch of drum and bass on there and a lot of tracks that I don't even know what genre they are. Departures has been done for a while. I've just been sitting on it to make sure I have lots of unreleased tracks to play.
Next up, I have a bunch of singles. There's this Opiuo thing and this Ghost in the Shell remix. Then I'm going to Bali for a couple months. I've been doing these drills where I'm using an interval timer like athletes use, but for music-making. I’ve been trying to be like, "How fast can I make music?" I'll have days where I'll make like five tracks, but most of them are not that awesome.
On Departures, there's one of those tracks where it was a speed exercise on Terminally Ill. There's one track that I made in literally half an hour. I prepared a template, did all the sound design first, but I actually wrote the MIDI in literally half an hour. It's a lot of people's favorite track on the record. I had to make like 30 of these before the perfect one came out.
That process was really interesting to me. I think probably the biggest problem with electronic music is overworking shit and over-producing it. And you can beat a track to death where it's just not fun anymore. When you do the process a ton of times, most of it's gonna be garbage, but you end up with just these magical moments that you would never, ever make otherwise. It's really interesting. I've just noticed over the years that a lot of my best tracks come together in like three hours or less.
Even some of them like "Expanded," all the melodies, Lorin and I wrote that in maybe an hour and a half on a hotel TV set. It was really awkward. We just plugged our RCA cables into the TV. We built the drums and stuff separately. You do the production separately, the mixdown separately, sound design separately. Actually capturing what the melodies are and how the sections progress into each other, that part of the songwriting, you can actually do that part pretty quickly.
If you're really prepared to make it happen quickly, it becomes a lot more like playing music and a lot less like editing. I've practiced finger drumming and playing instruments. When you actually write, you don't have time to edit. When you make a template for actually playing music and then let it just come out through your hands rather than sitting there with a mouse, it still probably takes the same amount of production time as writing other ways, but doing these is basically athlete training with production.
I've been making videos and they are fucking crazy to watch. When you're watching, you're just like, "Oh, shit, that's a track in half an hour," you know?
So I want to film the whole thing and see what I can learn by exploring that aspect of the process. I'm going to Bali for, like, two months to just sequester myself and be like, "How much music is it physically possible to write in two months?" There's that experiment. I’m gonna see what happens with that.
I really want to build a studio because I've been living in a temporary place in the New York. My friend has this insane studio with anything you could ever want. He's just like, "Yeah, just show me how to use all this shit and you can use it." I moved into this temporary place next to that studio and I've been working there a lot. I really want to build my own studio. So I think I'm probably going to go to LA in March and look for a spot to build a studio. I want to build a big brother house for producers and have my friends over to produce music because they stream all the time.
Thank you ill.Gates for taking the time to chat with us! Check out his online tutorials HERE.
Check out more iEDM Exclusive Interviews HERE.